It’s that time of the year. Kids are out enjoying the sunshine, BBQs are cranked up, and we homeschool moms are stalking the mail for boxes of curriculum, organizing school books, and planning the year’s workload. This series, Homeschool Scheduling 101, is designed to help you get your scheduling done quickly and efficiently–so you can step away from the stack of books and get on with summer fun!
This month, I am going to work with you step by step to organize and plan out your curriculum, your time, and your home so your school year can run a little more smoothly. Along with tips on scheduling, I am going to share with you some of my favorite time-saving products which help me run my home (and keep my sanity) during the school year.
Grab the Forms You Need
Grab our Homeschool Planning Pack, and let’s get started! (The forms you’ll need from this pack are the Yearly Brainstorming (the “big picture” form), Yearly Schedule (to map out your ideal year), and the Curriculum Pacing guide (to divide up your curriculum for the year). The other forms are used in this planning series and in the budgeting week of our Homeschool 101 series. And for those who homeschool year round (or who are interested in learning more about it, you can grab some year-at-a-glance planning forms and some monthly planning forms here.
When I sit down to plan my year, the very first thing I do is determine what kind of schedule we’re going to follow. Some people school for a traditional school year, following a public school calendar. Others do things a little differently. They may choose to do 4-day school weeks, work for 6 weeks and take a week off, or even to homeschool year round! One of the nicest things about homeschooling is that you can do what works best for your own family!
Some states have requirements that the school year consist of at least 180 days of instruction. Check the requirements for your state before you do your planning. (If you’re not sure about the homeschool-related laws in your state, you can learn about them on the HSLDA website.)
The general set-up is important simply because it helps you break down your curriculum in order to decide how many lessons you need to complete each week or each month.
- If you choose to do school work 4 days a week instead of 5 and want to be sure you finish the curriculum in 36 weeks, you’ll need to do some extra work on one or more of the 4 school days each week. Or you can double up one day a week. (The 5th day each week still counts as school if you do hands-on activities, field trips, or other educational activities!)
- Or you can do 45 weeks of school doing 4 days a week and simply have one day a week off. (That still gives you 7 additional weeks off for vacations, holidays, etc.)
- Or you can homeschool year round like I do! We take days off here and there as well as time during the holidays.
Keep in mind that it’s ok if you don’t always finish the entire curriculum each year! Some subjects (like math) build on previous lessons, so it’s important not to skip important lessons. Others can allow for a little more flexibility, and you can skip less important lessons if necessary.
Big Picture Brainstorming
First, you’ll want to get the big picture. Look at your calendar and determine the days or weeks you know you won’t be doing school. Do you take a yearly vacation? (This actually can count as part of your school year if you include educational activities and information in your travel! Read this article to find out Why Travel Is Vital for Your Homeschooling Family.) Do you like to have December off for making crafts, baking, and seeing family? (Again, those things can count as part of school too! Math is part of cooking and baking. Crafts can include math skills, following directions, motor skills practice for younger children, and even building social skills!) Or maybe you’ll need to take off some time for sports or other reasons. We like to take off now and then on days when the weather is especially nice just to play outside and spend time together. We allow ourselves some extra days off each year just for this purpose!
If you want to homeschool year round, you can read more about planning the “big picture” for your school year and download some free calendars to help you with planning (both year-at-a-glance calendars and monthly planning calendars), in this article: The Benefits of Homeschooling Year Round (with FREE Printable Calendars!) Or, if you’d like to use the year-at-a-glance undated planning page (the last page in the Homeschool Planning Pack), you can use that instead! (See the picture below for an example of the year-at-a-glance page being used.)
One more thing to keep in mind is to think about stumbling blocks you may encounter during the year and do your best to plan for them. For example, some families like to take a little extra time off in February or March when it seems like winter is lasting forever and you start to feel burned out. Instead of having to push through when you need a break, schedule some extra time off to do fun activities so you can all feel refreshed for finishing the school year!
When I use this year-at-a-glance page, I cross out weekends, label holidays in red, and highlight dates when I know we’ll be out of town. After I do those things, I start counting the number of school days and the number of weeks we’ll need to do school. That makes it much easier to see what kind of pace we’ll need to set for each subject. You probably won’t follow this form exactly, but it will give you very close idea of which days you’ll do school, and that will make life easier!
Next, you’re going to get out all the curriculum, supplements, and books you purchased and start plugging them into the plan.
Open up to the table of contents and read in your teacher’s manual to see what the recommended pacing is. If it’s an easy-to-schedule program, it will already be broken down either into 180-ish daily lessons or 36 week-long lessons. If that’s the case, you have it easy! In cases like this, I simply mark down on my master planner that we need to do one lesson a day or one lesson a week (whichever it is) and then put a sticky note on the first lesson in the teacher’s book and student book. I move the sticky note as we complete each lesson to make it easy to locate whichever lesson we’re on. That’s it for planning that book!
If it’s a book with an odd number of chapters, I look it over and first see if there is anything I want to skip. After I’ve done that, I look at the number of chapters/lessons that are left and figure out how many we’ll need to do each day or each week. Write the pacing for each of the programs you are using on a yearlong spreadsheet, which will serve as your master pacing guide for the year.
- If I was using Life of Fred for the school year and planned on using both the Apples and Butterflies books, I would first count how many chapters there were in these two books (18 in apples + 19 in butterflies = 37 chapters). I would then know I need to schedule about one chapter a week to finish both books in the school year. Because there are 37 chapters (to be done in a 36-week school year), I would probably plan to do two chapters the first week and one chapter a week after that.
- If I was using Explode the Code and wanted to complete books 1-3 during the school year, I would first count the pages in the 3 books. Then, assuming we were going to do ETC daily, I would divide by 180 to see how many pages would need to be completed each day.
This works even if you are a unit study homeschooler. For example, I would look at my list of topics I want to study and any materials I gathered (like an electricity unit from Moving Beyond the Page, and a unit on Life in a Castle, and a unit on Community Helpers). Then I would start to schedule them in around the year. For unit studies, I would still leave some “blank” spaces in case you need extra time for a particular topic or want to add something in that you hadn’t scheduled. You can always have some short mini unit studies (We have some here on Only Passionate Curiosity!) on hand to use if you have extra “blank” days. Unit studies do require a bit of on-going planning instead of a one-time breakdown as outlined above.
Hopefully this week you’ll have some time to get these steps done. Keep your list of your programs that you paced for the year, and be ready for next week! We’ll get them scheduled into your week next time and work out a plan to get everything done.
If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments! If you’re an old scheduling pro, please feel free to share your wisdom with us in the comments, too! Everyone does things a little differently, and we would love to hear your ideas.
Read the Whole Homeschool 101 Series on Scheduling: